Lawsuit Asks Court to Intervene in PA Redistricting

The state Capitol in Harrisburg (at top), where redistricting boundaries are being decided

By Emily Scott, Public News Service
For The Posts

HARRISBURG PA – A lawsuit asks the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to intervene in the process to create a new congressional district map for the Commonwealth. Some parties involved in the issue say they have growing concerns the legislature and governor will be unable to reach an agreement on the map in time for the 2022 primary.

Redistricting occurs under law every 10 years, following completion of the U.S. Census. It’s intended to redraw the boundaries of elective districts to ensure all state residents are equally represented, based on their area’s population growth. Preliminary maps for the state’s House and Senate districts were approved Dec. 16 (2021) by the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

The congressional district map, however, remains a work in progress. In the case filed Dec. 31, the Public Interest Law Center is representing leaders of Common Cause Pennsylvania, Fair Districts PA, and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.

Center staff attorney Ben Geffen said the suit is about trying to avoid the mistakes involving the 2011 congressional maps. They were thrown out by the state Supreme Court in 2018 following claims of partisan gerrymandering, or redrawing districts to benefit political parties.

The court decision “set a precedent, for the first time saying that it is a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution to draw a map in order to benefit one party or another party,” Geffen explained. “It’s an opportunity for Pennsylvania to get the map right in the first instance.”

The bulk of Montgomery County falls within the state’s 4th Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Rep. Madeleine Dean. It would remain unchanged under one version of a new map, but other districts in the state could see changes of as much as 16 percent if the same map were adopted now, a summary shows.

Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said the lawsuit also asks the Supreme Court to end what’s known as “prison gerrymandering.” That occurs when people in prison are counted as residents of the county where they’re incarcerated, instead of where they would normally vote. In Pennsylvania, the alleged practice most often involves people from Philadelphia or Allegheny counties, Ali indicated.

The Department of State has requested the House, Senate and congressional maps all be approved by Jan. 24 (2022; Monday) to meet deadlines for the May 2022 primary elections.

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